Roman Britain: Britannia and the Long Arm of Rome
Caesar's Invasions (55 - 54 B.C.)
Claudius' Invasion (A.D. 43)
Agricola and Hadrian in Britain
The Empire Weakens and Rome Takes It's Leave

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Roman Britain: Britannia and the Long Arm of Rome

An extract from an article By Brandon Huebner

The Roman historian Tacitus described it as pretium victoriae or "worth the conquest." It was the "largest island known to the Romans" and populated with people who "produce gold and silver and other metals." Imperial Rome, it seemed, was only interested in the wealth and resources with which Britannia could provide it. Rome, however, could not have obtained these highly crafted wares from a rudimentary, disjointed society of cave dwellers. Some historians have presented Iron Age Britain as just such a place, but the historical evidence exists to show that pre-Roman Britannia contained a dynamic, growing society of artisans, even though it had not equaled the splendor of Rome.

Caesar's Invasions (55 - 54 B.C.)

In an attempt to bolster his status among the citizens of Rome, Julius Caesar initiated an invasion of the British isles in 55 B.C. Caesar's first attempt at invasion was not meant to be, however, as the Roman fleet was turned back by foul weather. He returned again the following year and had a somewhat successful campaign, establishing relations with several regions in southwestern England. This is seen as the first establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and the diplomatic establishment was the only true result of the British invasions led by Caesar.

Claudius' Invasion (A.D. 43)
 
The Roman Emperor Claudius saw Britain as an ideal opportunity by which he could expand the empire, take possession of the resources in the British isles, and also gain the prestige associated with the conquest of a new land. He launched an invasion force 40,000 strong in A.D 43, and with such a large invasion force, nothing could stand in the way of the Romans. They met fierce resistance from the British inhabitants at some places, but Rome actively sought to gain willing followers, rather than force them into submission. This policy of peace before war was largely practiced by bribing the residents into cooperation, as most Britons had never seen the level of splendor with which the Romans could lavish them. A prime example of the splendor Rome bestowed on cooperative Britons is the Fishbourne Palace in West Sussex. Such beautiful architecture and workmanship could only be seen in Rome itself, but in order to extend the empire, Roman officials would go to any length.

Rome spent an extended period of enlarging their control over the British isles, through whatever means necessary, and by and large they were successful. The most remembered misstep is evidenced in the story of Queen Boudica and the revolt against Roman control. Boudica's husband had ruled a region of Britain and was a loyal ally of Rome during his life. At his death though, Rome took control of the land rather than let it pass to his wife, Boudica. The Romans flogged and raped her two daughters and in a vengeful rage, Boudica raised an army to revolt against the Romans. They won a few victories initially, but were no match for the disciplined legions in the long run. Though Rome maintained control, they could have avoided a major incident had they only followed their own practice of valuing a peaceful ally over a conquered foe.

Agricola and Hadrian in Britain

In A.D. 78, Agricola was appointed governor of Brittania, and he continued the conquests there. Rome's most difficult encounter in Britain occurred in A.D. 79 when the legions face Calgacus on the slopes on Mons Graupius in Northern Britain. Rome quickly learned that the peoples of northern Britannia were much stronger willed than their southern counterparts, for the battles waged in the north of the isles proved to be the limit of Rome's conquest in Britain. By the time Hadrian came to power in A.D. 117, Rome had essentially withdrawn to an unmarked line in northern England and not advanced any further. Emperor Hadrian placed a strong emphasis on construction and building during his reign, and he was largely responsible for the construction of a wall at the line where the legions had halted their conquest. The wall ended up being approximately 80 miles long, and it served as a control point for movement and commerce in the northern regions Britain.

During the Roman occupation of Britain, the two cultures merged to a substantial degree and evidence of that remains to this day. A physical evidence of the cultural combination is seen at the Roman bathhouse, for which the town of Bath was named. Rome also contributed to the English culture in areas such as law and literature. Eventually, the British isles began to come under threat of incursion by barbarian forces, mainly from Germany and Northern Europe. While Rome still occupied the islands, they built fortification to protect themselves from the invaders. An example of these types of Roman forts is seen in the modern-day city of Portchester.

The Empire Weakens and Rome Takes It's Leave

Rome first arrived in A.D.43 and built their control in Britain gradually over the years. Things in Britain became quite acceptable, both to the Romans and to the Britons. Rome gained the natural resources of the British isles, another region to add to it's vast empire, and more subjects to add to the tax base. The Britons in return reaped the gains of urban establishment, in cities such as London and Richborough, and they had gained the protection of the Roman legions from the growing barbarian threat from the North and the West. All good things must come to an end, as the saying goes, and this case did not contradict the trend. Rome itself was feeling the pressure of the growing barbarian presence in the West and it was eventually forced to recall it's legions to Italy in order to defend the Mother City. Although not completely defenseless, the Britons had grown used to the protection of Rome. It is apparent that Rome withdrew almost all of it's legions in the early to mid-5th century. Here we will leave our examination of Roman Britannia. The Britons are left as a people to face the mounting pressure of the barbarian hordes, and they are forced to do without the aid of Rome.

The author is a student of history, and will be embarking upon the study of law in the near future. He has a blog at http://britishistory.blogspot.com/.
Be sure to stop by for in-depth analysis of British history.

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